Do You Have Business Plan Writer’s Block? Start Here

A business plan might be one of the most important documents you’ll write as an entrepreneur.

Yet it’s a task that’s often put off (or never completed) because it’s not easy to do.

A business plan is a critical element of your business’s foundation. Think of your business idea as a destination. Your business plan is the map that helps you get there (ideally without too many detours or unexpected stops).

We’ll help get you started by outlining some of the key sections and information you should include in your business plan, regardless of your industry. And if you need additional help, we’ll share some resources that will guide you from start to finish.

Why You Need a Business Plan (Even If You’re Not Seeking Financing)

There’s a common misconception that you only need a business plan if you’re seeking funding to launch your business, whether from a bank, an investor or another source.

If you need an investment to start your business, you’ll need a strong, concise, polished business plan to help potential investors understand what you’re doing and why your business is a viable investment opportunity.

On the other hand, if you’re among the 81 percent of entrepreneurs who don’t pursue a bank loan or venture capital to start your business, it’s still a good idea to not only write a business plan, but also revisit it on an annual basis to see how your business (particularly your operations and finances) are evolving and ensure you’re on the right track toward achieving your long-term goals.

Even if you’re the only person who sees your business plan, it will help you gather your thoughts, figure out how you’ll meet your goals and document that critical information. There’s something official about a business plan that helps validate your idea and approach.

Remember, too, that a business plan is also a living, evolving document. It will likely change as your business grows, which is why we recommend revisiting your business plan each year to monitor how the plan — and your business itself — is progressing.

Seven Sections to Include in Your Business Plan

Business plans typically include seven sections:

Executive summary — This is where you summarize your business plan and also lay out what you need to launch your business, i.e. funding. Executive summaries are notoriously tricky because they need to be short (usually no more than one page in length) but also compelling. We recommend writing the rest of your business plan first and saving the executive summary for last.

Business description and organization — Detail your business, including its industry, operations, your chosen business structure and the products and/or services you’ll offer. Opt to include information about your company’s executive team here (if you have one) or you can add it to the “Business Operations and Management” section. Consider also including information about  the factors that will help make your business profitable.

Market strategy — This is where you delve into your target market, including its makeup and how your business fits into the landscape. Use this section to also take a closer look at your customers: who and where are they? Why will they support your business? Introduce your differentiators and what will help you stand out from the competition. Consider also including information on projected market share and product pricing and distribution.

Competitive analysis — You might find some slight overlap between this and the previous section, but a competitive analysis is a more detailed look at your competition, including their strengths and weaknesses. Highlight any advantages or differentiators your business has over the competition that will not only help you grow your customer base, but also limit disruption to your business from existing or new competitors.

Product design and development — What are the details of your product’s design and how it will be developed and produced? Consider including helpful visuals that will help readers of your business plan better understand the product. Then, detail development of the product itself, as well as how the product’s marketing strategy and the business itself will develop over time. The staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc., authors of Start Your Own Business, recommend including “a schedule that shows how the product, marketing strategies and organization will develop over time. The schedule should be tied to a development budget so expenses can be tracked throughout the design and development process.”

Lastly, a quick bit of good news. If your business offers a service instead of a product, you’ll only need to focus on the development part of this section.

Business operations and management — Share how your business will run from day to day. If you haven’t yet introduced your management team, do so here and share information about their qualifications and responsibilities. Will you have employees or a support staff to help run the business? What additional capital and expense requirements need to be met to keep your business running?

Financial outlook — Put down the Magic 8 ball and grab your calculator — it’s time to crunch some numbers. This is where you demonstrate your business’s profitability, both in the short- and long-term. You’ll want to include income statements (monthly for the first year, quarterly for the second and annual for the following years), a cash-flow statement and a balance sheet. Choose how far into the future you want to project your company’s finances, but it’s a good idea to outline at least three years’ worth of financial information, especially if you’re seeking start-up capital.

Two Common Places You’ll Get Stuck (And How to Move Forward)

Writing a business plan is hard. And it’s likely that, at some point, you’ll get stuck. We’ve identified the two most common sources of business plan writer’s block and how you can keep moving forward.

Getting started — If you find yourself hesitant to get started when facing a daunting project, you’re not alone. There’s an assumption that entrepreneurs are fearless and can easily tackle any challenge that comes their way. The reality, however, is that entrepreneurs fight anxiety and fear like everyone else.

Writing a business plan can seem like climbing a mountain. And as a result, many entrepreneurs completely avoid the task because they’re overwhelmed. If you find yourself struggling to start your business plan, it’s important to first recognize that you’re not alone.

Then, take a step back and examine ways you can make the task ahead a little easier. What about breaking the business plan up into the sections mentioned earlier and focusing on one at a time? By dividing a large project into smaller, more manageable pieces, you might find it easier to pick a place and dive in.

Maybe you feel like you have too many thoughts and details running through your brain and it’s tough to get everything down on paper. If you haven’t already, try a brain dump. Make notes or an outline to help you approach your business plan from a more organized mindset. You might also spot gaps in your information that you can fill before or as you start writing.

One last tip? Approach your business plan like a writer does a first draft. Your business plan isn’t going to be perfectly polished out of the gate. Instead, the bigger goal is to simply get everything documented and in a readable format. Then, consider giving your plan to a couple of trusted friends or colleagues so they can help you edit before you distribute your plan on a more widespread basis.

Financial projections — As you try to project revenue, expenses and losses, you might find yourself wishing for a fortune-teller. After all, how can you predict earnings and costs for the next three months, let alone three years, especially if you haven’t yet launched your business?

First, understand that much of the information in this section will be a guess, albeit an educated one. There’s no way you can know exact numbers, especially years ahead. What you’re instead trying to show is that your business will eventually be profitable, and, based on what you said earlier in your plan about your market and business operations, here’s how.

As you work on your financial projections, be realistic. If you’re seeking start-up funding, you don’t want to mislead prospective investors with wildly optimistic conjectures about their ROI. Instead, stick to the information you know to make your best (modest) financial guess.

If you get stuck here, try reaching out to your accountant. They might be able to help take the data you’ve compiled so far to organize it into the elements you’ll need to complete this section.

5 Ways to Keep Burnout At Bay

Grueling schedules, little to no time off and the pressure of juggling a myriad tasks, details and responsibilities — the life of an entrepreneur is nothing short of challenging. And when launching or running a business becomes too much, entrepreneurs risk meeting an intimidating adversary: burnout.

The thing about burnout is that it affects entrepreneurs in different ways. Some entrepreneurs facing burnout simply need a few days to recharge. Other, more severe cases may make it difficult for entrepreneurs to continue with their businesses.

Burnout can strike at any time, but it’s most prevalent at the end of the year. You’ve worked your tail off the last 12 months, maybe even without a break. Plus, the pressure of a new year is looming: what will you accomplish? How will you grow? What’s the next step?

Here’s some good news: burnout can be avoided. The best way to minimize your risk of burnout is to take a step back and examine your schedule, your workload and your body’s natural rhythms. We’ll take you through five tips that can help you steer clear of burnout and get the downtime you need without compromising your business’s productivity.

Let’s go ahead and start a little self-care before we dive in. Grab your favorite beverage, settle in your comfiest chair, and, once you’re settled, continue reading. It’s time to banish burnout.

1. Take a day off.

Entrepreneurs are known for working long hours and crazy schedules, and for good reason — there’s always something to do when you’re running your business or preparing for launch!

Yet even when you’re feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list, you’ll get more done (and help protect your health) if you schedule time off. For example, if you regularly work seven days a week, can you give yourself at least one day a week to relax and recharge?

It’s also not a bad idea to look ahead and identify opportunities to take a longer break. Depending on the type of business you run, the holiday season is a prime time to take a few days off, since business in many industries tends to slow in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

One more tip: try to schedule a day off after a particularly grueling busy period. Maybe you’ve spent weeks preparing to exhibit at a convention or tradeshow. Or you’re preparing to launch a new product or service. Or your business has a busy season, and you’ve done all you could to keep things running smoothly and efficiently. Once that milestone is complete, try to take at least one day to rest, spend time with friends and family or enjoy a favorite activity (more on that later in the post).

2. Create a support system.

Whether you work from home, your own office or a coworking space, there’s no denying that life as an entrepreneur can be lonely. That’s why building a support system of trusted friends and fellow entrepreneurs is important.

Sure, you can use members of this group as a sounding board when you’ve hit an obstacle or are developing a new idea. And if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by your business and approaching burnout, reach out to those in your support system to vent and clear your mind. You’ll likely find that the entrepreneurs you know have been in a similar situation and can throw you a much-needed life preserver when it feels like you’re drowning.

If you feel your enthusiasm for your business waning, it might also help to surround yourself with energetic entrepreneurs that can reinvigorate you and help you remember your “why.” Try looking for entrepreneurial meet-ups in your area, including 1 Million Cups, Creative Mornings or start-up showcases.

3. Delegate.

It’s not always easy to cede control of tasks to others, but part of running a successful long-term business is the ability to delegate.

Take a close look at your workload and how you’re spending your time. If you feel like you’re in perpetual catch-up mode or you can’t seem to get ahead of your business curve, it might be time to bring in some help. Not everyone can afford to add full-time employees to their business, especially in the early days.

Instead, look at the work you want to delegate, then examine your options. Maybe you need help with scheduling and administrative tasks. Consider a virtual assistant who could help you remotely and also allow for a smaller initial investment than, say, bringing on a full-time business manager.

Or maybe you need help with some finite tasks or projects. You could hire a contractor on an hourly or per project basis to complete the work. If you don’t have a candidate that’s top of mind, reach out to your network for recommendations or see if your city has a resource like Kansas City-based The Freelance Exchange, which helps pair clients with freelancers.

4. Treat yourself.

When you’re up to your eyeballs in work, taking care of yourself can easily slip to the bottom of your priorities. Yet giving yourself time for self-care — even if it’s just a few minutes a day or week — can go a long way in helping you feel relaxed, even re-energized for the work that lies ahead.

The beauty of self-care is that when it comes to treating yourself, the possibilities are nearly endless. First, think about what you enjoy: exercise? Meditation? A spa treatment or massage? Going to a movie? Reading a book?  Crafting?

Then, you can make a plan to, as the kids say, #treatyoself. Schedule your favorite indulgent activity just like you would a meeting, then do everything you can to keep the appointment. And take a similar approach to self-care as you would your business. For instance, you don’t need to suddenly book yourself on a week-long meditation retreat in the mountains (but we can dream!). Instead, carve out a few minutes each day (or a few times a week) to meditate in a favorite peaceful spot.

One of the advantages of self-care is that it adds up quickly, and a little bit can go a long way, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve done something nice for yourself. Making time for something you love is part of your investment in your overall mental and physical health, which, over time, can be one of your business’s biggest assets.

5. Know when you’re most productive.

If you routinely struggle to get work done, it’s worth reexamining your daily schedule and how you’re blocking off your time. Are you more productive in the morning? Do what you can to avoid meetings or calls during that time and, instead, focus on checking things off of your to-do list. If you find you’re more apt to get things done in the afternoon, then make that your more productive time.

Depending on your type of business and operating hours, you might even want to go so far as to slightly shift your schedule. Maybe you prefer getting a later start — say, 9 or 10 a.m. — and work until 6 or 7 p.m. Early birds could shift that schedule so that you start your day earlier.

That brings up another tip: do what you can to adhere to a schedule. As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to work throughout the day (and even night). But by setting boundaries, including a daily schedule, you’re more likely to stay focused but also give yourself the time away from work you need to relax and rest, which is one of the most effective ways to minimize your risk of burnout.

Here’s one last tip: ditch the guilt trip. It’s so easy for entrepreneurs to talk themselves out of downtime or self-care or delegating. But think of it like this: the goal for any entrepreneur is to work smarter, not harder. Any steps you can take to do just that — and make sure you’re taking care of yourself — will be some of the most effective ways to achieve both long-term professional success and personal fulfillment.